While you are waiting for the seed catalogs to arrive in the mail, or if you are already enjoying the print or electronic version of the catalogs, make a garden plan before you purchase any seeds. It is fun, of course, to choose new varieties of any intriguing seed. Without a plan, you may waste many seeds, and you risk planting the same crop in the same place year after year and causing diseases or soil nutrient deficiencies.
If you prefer to plan your garden on the computer, try Mother Earth News' garden planning software. I prefer a paper, pencil, and ruler to do the actual planning, although the information available at the Mother Earth News website helps with planning on paper and on the computer.
I draw an outline of the garden, somewhat to scale, including fences, permanent beds, and paths, and I make copies of the original for future use. It is easier to motivate myself to fill in the blanks in subsequent years than to start anew.
One of the main reasons I plan my garden is to make sure I rotate the crops that are most susceptible to disease and attack by pests. There are basic groups of plants, and I try to avoid planting them in the same spot more frequently than once every three or four years.
According to the Today's Homeowner website, an easy way to divide the garden is to consider the plant’s products: leaves or flowers (like lettuce and broccoli), fruits (like tomatoes, potatoes, and corn), roots (carrots, beets, and onions), and legumes that feed the soil (like beans and peas).
Tomatoes and potatoes, for example, remove many nutrients from the soil in order to grown, and they are susceptible to the same diseases. If you plant them in the same place year after year, yield will eventually deteriorate. To replace nutrients the potatoes used, plant beans or another legume, which release nitrogen into the soil, after the potatoes. Diseases and pests that affect potatoes do not usually affect beans, and the pests and diseases should decrease in the absence of host plants.
On my garden plan, I write the crops I planted in different spots. I usually have separate plans for each season because I plant a garden all year. When it is time to plant a new crop, I make sure to put it in a bed that has not had a member of its group in a few years.
Depending on the level of detail of the records you want, you can write “beans” on one area and “tomatoes” on another or you can write down the variety’s name. I grow several bean varieties, for example, so I write down each variety. I use labels on the rows too, but the writing on the stake often fades or the stakes disappear by the end of the growing season. Keeping detailed records of yields of the different varieties helps me eliminate varieties that do not perform well and buy more of those that do well in the garden.